Holdco earnings show that turbulent tech sector could learn from big marketing groups. Barry Dudley writes in The Drum

27th March 2023

Green Square’s Barry Dudley looks into the performance of the big agency groups following their annual earnings presentation.

Our topsy-turvy world continues to spring surprises on us. Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse is the latest shock wave. Meta, the owner of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, has just announced that another 10,000 redundancies will happen over April and May, to go with the 13% cut (around 11,000 people) announced back in November.

It has been reported that Alphabet, Amazon, Meta and Microsoft will be hit by over $10bn in costs as a result of their collective lay-offs, alongside property and other restructuring costs.

Is there any light at the end of the tunnel, you might wonder? I’d argue that this reset across the big tech world, painful as it may have been for the people that have been cast aside, is going to make for stronger businesses in the long term.

We need innovation, invention and advancement, but the ability to deliver this has to be protected by creating a strong business platform, with the right environment, culture, systems and processes. And this is where I believe these tech players can learn a little from the big marketing groups, which have worked their way through many crises over a lot of years, investing in talent, culture, tech and operations.

So, while you might assume things will not have been pretty at WPP or Publicis, I think you may be surprised. They have faced and still face plenty of challenges, but here’s what we found from taking a look at some earnings presentations.

Please bear in mind that there are many ways to define revenue, nuances to the calculation of like-for-like, underlying organic growth and adjusted versus unadjusted profits, to name just a few areas where businesses analyse things differently. And then there are the different currencies that may have worked to the favour of one and to the detriment of another. Thus, I’ve not sought to compare the businesses, but what seems clear to me is that all these groups are doing pretty well. See what you think.


WPP is the biggest of the groups by revenue, which grew to £14.4bn from £12.8bn – 12.7% growth, with 6.7% like-for-like growth (sometimes referred to as underlying or organic growth, as it takes out the impact of acquisitions or dispositions, as well as foreign exchange movements). Headline operating profits of £1.7bn at a slightly improved margin of 14.8% against revenues less pass-through costs. A very impressive 114,000 staff worldwide, which is some way beyond the 60,000 to 70,000 people that I calculated Meta will have post redundancies.

It is planning further simplification of the group; its ”transformation savings” of £375m is ahead of plan. It has been reshaping the business for some time, so these aren’t the result of knee-jerk reactions.

”All major agencies grew” and there was ”good growth across most major markets,” it announced. GroupM is still a powerhouse within WPP, commerce media and connected TV being key drivers for it. Ogilvy (creative) and Hogarth (production) also performed strongly. PR performed well too, with ”strong demand for strategic communications”.

”Experience, commerce and technology” were commonly referenced growth areas, which may be a clue for the destination of the £237m that’s earmarked for acquisitions.

Outlook for 2023: ”Like-for-like revenue less pass-through costs growth of 3-5%.”


The heading of the first slide of their investor presentation sets the scene – ”2022: Another record year”. Net revenue was up 19.9% to €12.6bn from €10.5bn, with underlying organic growth of 10.1%. Operating profit was €2.3bn at an 18.0% margin on net revenue. These are an impressive set of results.

What it says lies behind this is its ”unique revenue mix: capturing shift in client spend to 1P data, digital media, commerce and DBT”. A third of the group’s revenue and half of the growth comes from ”data and tech” with Epsilon and Publicis Sapient at the very heart of it all. Media (double-digit growth) and creative (mid-single-digit growth) collectively represent the other two-thirds of revenue.

Europe saw the strongest growth, US was next, then APAC. Growth was ”+38% organic in Q4 for UK, led by Publicis Sapient”.

And there was an interesting point within its margin improvement narrative: ”record high bonus pool for the second year in a row, one-week additional salary in November”. Investment in talent is fundamental to this sector and, having seen a wave of people running towards heady packages with the tech giants, I think it’s clear we are going to see things swing back the other way.

Outlook for 2023: ”Confidence for 2023 despite global macroeconomic uncertainties’ with ‘organic growth +3% to +5%.”


At face value, it would appear Omnicom stood still – revenue remained unchanged at $14.3bn. But when adjusted for businesses acquired and disposed of in the year (and foreign exchange movements), there was organic growth of 9.4%. Non-GAAP Adjusted Operating Profit margin was slightly up at 15.4% ($2.2bn) from 15.0% ($2.1bn).

From its ”revenue by discipline” analysis there were some key themes in 2022 – ”advertising and media”, which represented 52% of the year’s revenue, had healthy organic growth of 7.3%, but precision marketing saw an impressive 17.1% organic growth, experiential 26.1% and public relations 13.7%.

Middle East & Africa, Latin America and the UK saw double-digit organic revenue growth, with the United States (51.6% of total revenues), other North America and Europe all having high single-digit growth. APAC was the slowest growth market at 6.6%.

Omnicom’s ”Business Update” referenced ”continued investment in retail media, data clean rooms and connected TV”.

Outlook for 2023: ”Planning for macroeconomic uncertainty, with confidence in the flexibility of our business.”

Interpublic Group

IPG summarised its performance as ”a strong year, notwithstanding general macroeconomic concerns”. Revenues before billable expenses grew from $9.1bn to $9.4bn. This was a 3.7% increase, but the underlying organic growth stood at 7.0%. Operating income margin on revenues before billable expenses saw a slight decline to 14.6% ($1.38bn) from 15.8% ($1.43bn).

Each of IPG’s business segments had broadly the same organic growth: specialised communications and experiential solutions at 8.5%, integrated advertising and creativity-led solutions at 7.1%, and media, data and engagement solutions at 6.4%.

Organic net revenue growth was achieved across all geographies, with UK at the top of the list at 9.4%, followed by all other markets, continental Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific, with its largest market – the United States – growing the least at 2.4%.

Outlook for 2023: ”Continued focus on driving growth, building on our industry-leading foundation.”


Another record breaker! With 14.4% growth, Dentsu has achieved ”record-high” net revenues of Y1,117bn. This is partly down to organic growth that sits at a more modest 4.1%, partly due to acquisitions but also positive foreign currency impact that was greater than organic and acquisition-based growth combined. Underlying operating profit on net revenue was 18.2% at Y203bn, which was fractionally down on 2021 (18.3%, Y179bn), although excluding Russia it was fractionally up at 18.4%.

As with other groups, organisation simplification and property rationalisation were important margin factors.

Customer transformation and technology (CT&T) and media in international markets were performance drivers. In 2022, CT&T represented 32% of net revenues, with advertising, media and creative being the balance. The 2023 target is for CT&T to be 50%. And since its results presentation, Dentsu took a big step towards this target with its acquisition of Tag.

Geographic growth has some similarities with other groups – EMEA the strongest at 9.7%, then Americas at 6.1%, APAC at 2.5% and the home market of Japan at a mere 0.4%.

Outlook for 2023: ”Macro outlook remains uncertain, but guidance of c.4% organic growth.”


Havas’s results sit within Vivendi’s, but they are by no means lost – alongside Gameloft, a mobile video game developer, Havas is a bit of a star in the bigger group. Net revenues grew 15.8%, 6.8% organically, to €2.6bn. With eight acquisitions it was a ”record year” for M&A. EBITA (earnings before interest tax and amortisation) showed a similar profile with growth of 19.7% to €239m (organic growth 8.8%).

Latin America was the key organic net revenue growth region at 13.6%, followed by Europe at 7.6%, Asia Pacific and Africa at 5.8%, then North America at 5.2%.

By business unit, the 2022 net revenues were split: 43% Havas Creative; 32% Havas Media; 15% Havas Health & You.

Outlook for 2023: ”Vivendi is moving into 2023 with confidence. Nevertheless, we remain attentive to the macro-economic and geopolitical context.”


Net Revenues were up 15.3% to $2.2bn, with organic growth at 14.5%. There were eight acquisitions in the year, although these had a relatively small impact as they represented just 2.0% of total growth, with negative foreign exchange impact of -1.2% bringing growth back to 15.3% overall.

Operating income grew a very strong 56% to $159m, which improved the operating income margin on net revenue from 5.3% to 7.2%.

The best-performing units with respect to organic net revenue growth were digital transformation at 33.4% and consumer insights and strategy at 25.3%. Performance media and data at 9.6% and creativity and communications at 5.1% balanced the overall picture to 14.5%.

Outlook for 2023: ”Organic net revenue growth 7.5–10%.”

So, all in all, an impressive set of results in what was another very tumultuous year, with the groups continuing to deliver decent profitability on revenue growth. Going back to where I started, perhaps tech businesses should look at some of these ‘old school’ models and understand how this legacy of experience and resilience could be applied to benefit their own organisations.

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